I am not an only child, I am a child.
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What are the first words that come to mind when hearing or seeing the word ‘only child’? Spoilt, lonely, demanding, or perhaps mature, independent, or creative?
We have all heard the jokes and the labels given to children who grow up without siblings, but today these social stereotypes are more often proven to have no basis in facts. Growing up as an only child myself, I was always asked the typical questions such as “don’t you get lonely?”, “don’t you just love the attention?”, “don’t you wish you had siblings?”. No, no, and no was my answer to it all. Parents of only children also often get asked “are you rather focussing on your career?” “that must be why he is so shy” or “it must be so much easier for you”. Society will always have something to say and there will always be a box that people try squish you into. However, there is no need to worry about your only child’s development. I was perfectly happy and content being an only child, as were many others who grew up without siblings, and this is because of the environment, and parenting style that the child was given.
My question is, wouldn’t any child be happy and content with their family unit if they were given the right environment and support? Why all the stigma on only children? In the end, all this does is stress parents out, possibly causing them to compensate or overcompensate when it comes to their parenting styles.
Below are some of the common myths relating to an only child. I give my personal take on each point, given my experience of being an only child, and the aim is to show you as parent, that these myths can, and have been, debunked.
• Only children don’t interact well with others. I always cringed when people kept asking “why are you so shy?”. Little did they know that I just wasn’t comfortable around people I didn’t know. My family and friends could never get me to stop talking. So for any child, encouraging social interaction is good. Sports, play dates, and other social activities give your child the opportunity to develop skills such as empathy, conflict resolution, active listening, manners, altruism, etc. It’s important to note that your child may still prefer their alone time and that’s a good thing. It does not necessarily mean they’re avoiding people. They enjoy their own company and this has a great impact on the development of their maturity and creativity.
• According to parenting expert, Susan Newman, only children more often seek out opportunities to fit in which may influence their confidence and strength when it comes to peer pressure. Encourage your child to celebrate and focus on their uniqueness and strengths. I will admit I was not strong enough when it came to peer pressure but isn’t this a struggle for every child? This is one of the many reasons why positive self-talk and confidence building is so important for any child.
• Only children don’t learn how to fend for themselves. I couldn’t learn from a brother or sister’s mistakes and often I had to make decisions for myself. This was not easy but as I look back, I am so thankful for the strength and confidence it taught me. Give your child more rope. Give your child the opportunity to be self-sufficient. This point is sometimes easier said than done. However, allowing your child the freedom to learn from their own mistakes teaches them valuable lessons. You’ll know when to swoop in and know when ‘they’ve got this’.
• Only children tend to set high standards and expectations for themselves. Growing up as an only child, I didn’t have a sibling to compare myself too. I set my own goals for myself. It is great for all children to set goals, but when he or she is not able to achieve these goals, help them see the situation for what it truly is. Encourage positive self-talk and show them that it’s okay to make mistakes. What counts the most is how we deal with the mistakes.
Of course each child may have different experiences based on their family dynamic, but in the end the principles that assist an only child, can be applied to any child for that matter. The social stereotypes lead people to forget that only children are still children, each with their own circumstances, environment, and dynamic just like every other child.